Wraps Xpress Is the Turkish Rose of Irvine

There are now two Irvines in existence: the city of Don Bren's dreams— robo-communities, never-ending development and HOAs that fine homeowners for growing the wrong plants—and the multicultural oasis it has become over the past decade, the type of town in which Farsi and Korean are as common as English. The latter has saved Irvine from the many Stepford slurs thrown at it over the decades—but the former still lurks around, a reminder of how embarrassing the city can be to the rest of us Orange Countians (and let's not even get into the Great Park fiasco).

Wraps Xpress gingerly lives on the line between the two Irvines. It's a great Turkish restaurant desperately trying to pass itself off as a franchise opportunity. Employees are high-school- and college-age kids who wear polo shirts so orange even the Denver Broncos wouldn't dream of using them. Soft R&B plays on the soundtrack, music almost indistinguishable from the music piped into Chase Bank just across the shopping plaza, and the customers are the type of people to whom hummus must be explained, who must be goaded into trying a sandwich made with pita bread. "Na-an?" one man once asked, Bluetooth bolted into his ear. "Is that pronounced like The Flying Nun?"

Poor Wraps Xpress; its food is wasted on this lesser Irvine. The menu limits itself to the millennia-old tradition of a flatbread wrapped around a stuffing—in this case, pita bread freshly baked to order with the topping of your choice. An ingredient station à la the Chipotle assembly line is at the front so eaters can customize orders, but only go for a smear of hummus and yogurt—you shouldn't distract from the succulent splendor of the straightforward, Turkish-style meats. Foremost among which is doner, Anatolia's favorite meat: meat shavings like the shawerma enjoyed in Arabic restaurants, but more finely sliced, more buttery thanks to the drippings of fat that seep into each petal. The yogurt cools; the hummus adds earthiness. Wrapped in the slightly burnt, slightly crunchy bread, filling but not gut-extending, this meal needs a better name than a mere wrap,but how else to sell such ethnic food to Irvinites?

Other wraps stay true to their Turkish roots—lahmanjun, a smearing of minced meats, is like a sausage pizza come to life, but sweeter due to cinnamon touches, while the zest of zaatar never bores. Wraps Xpress even offers desserts: four flavors of Turkish-style baklava called burma, each wrapped like cigars, gnarled and flaky and sweet, and a type of cheese éclair lightly dressed with pistachios. Remember this find when you overhear the workers glumly explain to some Ray-Ban-wearing lass what pita bread is.

This column appeared in print as "Xpress Yourself."


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